Monday, 18 June 2012

Park Lane

Park Lane – Frances Osborne 
Following in the footsteps of ’Downton Abbey’ and the revitalised Upstairs Downstairs’, this war time novel certainly did not follow the path I was expecting. At its heart are Bea and her sometimes maid Grace, two women who come from extremely different backgrounds. Yet these characters both bring to ‘Park Lane’ a different snapshot of what life was for women just prior to WW1 and during. Grace has come to London to make something of herself as a secretary yet finds herself unable to gain employment anywhere but as a maid in Bea’s family mansion. Bea is a rich young woman on the scary side of twenty, not yet married and desperate to make her mark on a world where women are decidedly second class citizens.
There was a lovely symmetry to this novel, as the notion of class became something of a nonissue in that neither woman was free to follow her dreams and constantly subjected to the mores of a world teetering on the edge. This is a novel that is truly about these women and their experiences, as Bea fights for the vote and then does what she can in France during the war, and Grace struggles with her class and the question of marriage or freedom. It was well written, skipping seamlessly between the two women and back again, and as an example of the world of a young woman prior to WW1 it stands above many of the offerings I’ve read to date.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


Gold - Chris Cleave

This is the perfect novel to read concurrently with the London Olympics as it demonstrates with adroitness the lengths athletes must go to in order to stay at the top of their game. At the heart of ‘Gold’ are two women, Zoe and Kate, they are Cyclists, best friends, training buddies and have been rivals for the gold since they were nineteen. At thirty-two both women has had her share of wins and losses both on and off the bike, yet their abiding friendship remains. Cleave takes us on the girls journey to their final Olympics in London whilst seamlessly telling the story of the various failures and successes that have led them to this point.

I found this book to be a revelation – I’ll readily admit that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospect of reading about sport. Yet ‘Gold’ is about so much more than Cycling, despite the fact both women were defined by it. The sport is both ever-present and at the same time somehow serves as a prop to the narrative that unfolds around it. The characters were finely drawn and so real, oft times confronting yet at the same time endearing, their circumstances are so different to the general public yet their issues so pervasive. The writing was beautifully refined and at the same time subversive and the suspense that built in Cleave’s capable hands had me racing to the finish…pun intended.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Recluse

The Recluse - Evelyn Juers
There is an urban myth in Newtown that the inspiration for Charles Dickens archetypal Miss Havisham was based on a woman who lived here in the 19th century. Eliza Donnithorne was allegedly jilted at the altar and never recovered, the wedding feast remaining on the table until her death. Sound familiar? However, this book is anything but a retelling of Miss Havisham’s sad end, instead Juers delves into the history of the Donnithorne family and examines the fables that made Eliza the myth she is today – who came first? Eliza or Miss Havisham?
I must admit that at times I found myself cast adrift as Juers recounted history of the family – jumping back and forth between cousins and distant family members I struggled to keep straight and see the point of. Nevertheless this was a thoroughly researched collection and I was fascinated at how Eliza has become a local legend simply by becoming a recluse – the only hard evidence to be found were letters to her lawyers and family that stated she was unwell and an avid reader. So the real question is – does a woman have to have a tragic past to decide she would prefer to spend her life alone reading? This reader certainly hopes not!